CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona’s first extended postseason run with the Cleveland Indians has been an emotional one.
From facing off against his former club, the Boston Red Sox, and their retiring superstar, David Ortiz, to playing the Toronto Blue Jays, whose president, Mark Shapiro, held the same position when Francona joined the Indians in 2013, it has been an emotional trip through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Now, the Indians will play against the Chicago Cubs, who are run by Francona’s former boss in Boston, GM Theo Epstein, and led by one of his pitchers, Jon Lester, who will take the ball for Game 1 of the World Series at Progressive Field tonight.
“He's one of my favorites,” Francona said of Lester. “He's one of everybody's favorites though, so that's an easy one. I won't be pulling for him, but he's very special. I've known his mom and dad for a long time, and he's pretty special.”
And the feeling between Francona and Lester is mutual.
“He cares,” said Lester, who battled cancer during his time with Francona in Boston. “He cares about each individual player, and I think he treats everybody like family. I think that's the big thing I felt. That's the way I felt when I played for him is, I wasn't just a player to him. I was part of his family.
“I think that's why he's very, very good at his job, and I think that's why guys love playing for him. He cares about you not only as a person, but as a ballplayer, and he always has your best interest when he makes decisions out there.”
Together, Lester, Epstein and Francona helped break Boston’s 87-year World Series drought when they overcame a 3-0 deficit against their archrivals, the New York Yankees, in the ALCS and swept their way past the St. Louis Cardinals to the championship in 2004.
Another long-standing drought will come to an end at the end of the postseason, as the Cubs (1908) and Indians (1948) are in the midst of the two longest active stints between championships in Major League Baseball.
“Our players are going to dictate who wins and loses on both sides, as it should be, but Theo had the guts to hire me up there when, I don't know, I didn't have a ton of resumé and they were expected to win, and he believed in me,” Francona said.
“We went eight years of a lot of good baseball. You've been to Boston enough to know if you can survive with somebody through eight years there, that says enough right there. I always knew when things got tough where I could go, and that's a big compliment, in my opinion.”